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How does a VPN protect you on public Wi-Fi?

Jul 18, 2018 · 6 min read

How does a VPN protect you on public Wi-Fi?

Public WiFi is an especially convenient choice for staying online all the time and is a great alternative to using up your mobile data. We can all agree that it’s great, but are you sure that this free WiFi hotspot you’re connected to right now is safe?

The main weakness of many free WiFi hotspots provided in coffee shops, airports, hotels, and other public places often lies in poor router configurations and even more frequently – in the absence of strong passwords. The lack of basic protection is precisely what makes WiFi users an easy prey for cybercriminals and other malicious actors that are always on the lookout for gaps in security they can exploit.

Having your credit card details stolen or becoming a victim of identity theft doesn’t sound fascinating, does it? But this is what may happen if you keep connecting your smartphone or laptop to random WiFi networks without taking necessary precautions to keep your data safe.

How and why can hackers attack WiFi networks?

There couldn’t be an easier target for hackers than free unprotected WiFi hotspots: they are super easy to compromise and yet very few people think twice before connecting to them. Once a criminal gets on the same network that you’re on, they can use various techniques to invade your privacy. Here are the most popular ones that require minimum skills and effort:

  • In an Evil Twin attack, cybercriminals use fake access points created to look like the real ones. For example, if a coffee shop provides a wireless guest network named “Espresso_Guest,” hackers could design a similar network of their own and call it “Espresso_Guest_FREE.” The trick is simple, yet effective: once you connect to the evil twin, all your communications become visible to the hacker behind it.
  • Malware injection. Malware is especially nasty – once it infects your device, it can damage or shut down the system, steal your bandwidth, or give cybercriminals complete freedom to access your personal files. As certain types of malware are created to work imperceptibly, it can be extremely difficult to detect and get rid of them. On an unsecured network, malicious code can slip into your device at any time – when buying flight tickets, or having some work done while sipping your morning espresso.
  • In a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack, the cybercriminal stands between your device and a website or service you are trying to access. This allows them to monitor your Internet traffic without you having a clue this is happening. From there, they can watch you typing your passwords, read confidential business emails, and even lure you into fake login pages to steal your banking credentials.
  • WiFi sniffing allows hackers to see all the data that is passing through the network. With the help of pretty basic software, which is easy enough to use and legal to get, they can spy on your browsing activities, see the login information that you type, and break into your online accounts to steal more sensitive data or money.

Securing public WiFi: Steps you need to take

Unfortunately, all of these tricks are easy for even an unseasoned hacker, so it’s extremely important to be aware of the possible threats and learn how to protect yourself. Do not forget basic precautions, because even the most advanced security tools won’t protect you 100%, especially if you tend to look for trouble yourself. Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do on public WiFi:

  • Accept the fact that anyone can fall a victim of cybercrime. Too many people somehow still believe that they are not interesting enough to be hacked. Remember, that in the majority of cases, criminals are not interested in their targets. This is especially true when it comes to being hacked due to weak WiFi security: anyone who joins an unprotected network has equal chances to get their data compromised.
  • Disable automatic connections. This will prevent your device from automatically joining the networks you have previously connected to if you happen to be nearby but are not planning to use them.
  • Don’t just connect to any WiFi. If you see two similarly looking WiFi names, remember that one of them may be fake. Therefore, it’s better to double-check with a staff member before joining a free public network.
  • Don’t log into sensitive accounts: If you’re on public WiFi, perhaps the safest advice is to simply avoid going into your bank accounts and other sensitive accounts that would be most appealing for hackers. This may also include your work email and social networking sites, as people tend to share private information over these channels.
  • Turn off file sharing and check your firewall. Just to be safe, it’s always best to turn off file sharing on your computer while you’re on a public network. If you have this turned on at home, it will allow you to share files across your devices easily. However, that means it’s also easy to have them shared—without your knowing—on public WiFi, so remember to turn it off before you connect. And while you’re turning off the sharing option, go ahead and check that your firewall is turned on. An easy step, but a crucial one.
  • Get a reliable VPN. If you don’t fancy the idea of someone snooping on your online activities and using your sensitive data for their own benefit, buying yourself a reliable VPN is what you should be doing at this very moment.

You can stop a WiFi hacker with a VPN. Here’s how

VPN is by far the most robust protection you can get to protect your privacy and stay secure on public WiFi at the same time.

Contrary to what many people think, VPN is not rocket science, nor is it a geeky tool. It is a virtual private network, which sends your Internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel, making it extremely difficult to intercept or decipher. Once you have a VPN app on your phone, laptop, or tablet, all you have to do is connect to a remote VPN server, and you can join any wireless network without putting yourself at risk of becoming a hacking victim.

What’s more, VPN allows you to hide your location by replacing your IP address with the IP of their remote VPN server. Not only does this help to protect your identity from hackers, ISPs, and other snoopers, it also allows you to securely access restricted websites. This is particularly handy if you are traveling abroad and want to keep access to your favorite content and social media services.

With a VPN on, you can securely connect to public WiFi provided at your hotel room and enjoy all the entertainment you want as if you were at home.

How to choose the best VPN for WiFi security

With the Internet full of VPNs claiming to be the best for your privacy, you may feel a little confused which one to choose. Although getting a free VPN service may seem like a right choice, you may want to know that free VPN providers often make money by collecting and selling their customers’ data. Another disadvantage of such services is that they usually put monthly caps on users’ speed and bandwidth. Therefore, subscription VPN services are always a better option, because you know you get what you pay for.

Here’s what you get when you choose to protect your privacy with NordVPN:

  • Strong encryption is the first thing you want from your VPN. NordVPN secures your traffic with robust encryption, protecting your data from snoopers and hackers.
  • Even stronger encryption for the most security-focused. Use DoubleVPN to encrypt your communications twice.
  • The ultimate freedom of choice. Pick any of the 4500+ servers in 62 countries to enjoy private and secure browsing.
  • Protection against malicious threats. NordVPN’s CyberSec feature prevents you from visiting malicious sites. A nice bonus – due to this setup, fewer ads will disturb your browsing.
  • Support for up to 6 devices. With one account, you can secure all of your devices or share it with your family members.
  • No logs. We strictly keep no records of your activity online, so you can be sure none of your data is being shared with third parties.
  • Easy setup. Using NordVPN is as easy as preparing your morning coffee. No joke – simply download the app, set it up, pick a server and let NordVPN take care of the rest. Go ahead, try it now, and let us know how you like it.

 

Remember to always be careful on public WiFi. Hackers are hard workers too, so it’s best to remain vigilant.


Lewis Lambert Fox
Lewis Lambert Fox successVerified author

Lewis is a content writer at NordVPN and a true explorer when it comes to cybersecurity. He’s always on a mission to examine the tech world through the lens of privacy and share his findings and useful tips with blog readers.


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